Has it really been two months already? I wouldn’t believe it except for the calendar telling me that it truly is so. Also, upon reflection today as I sat out on the front porch steps of a house next to a woman selling teeth cleaning sticks and peanuts, waiting for my friend to withdraw a couple thousand cfa, and watching a horse drawn garbage cart and a ram strapped to top of station wagon drive by, I realized that this was becoming a part of normal life. Excuse my directness, but I am comfortably wiping my butt with my left hand and I have no qualms about throwing my trash in the street. (Sorry America, but there are literally NO trashcans). The cockroaches in my room only mildly surprise me and even though I have had staff infections covering my legs for the past two weeks, I have remained cheery and perserverent in my neosporin treatment of these oozing wounds. Too much? Please forgive me, because as my parents remarked on the phone to me the other day, my sense of humor is slowly but surely changing to fit my new world here in Senegal.
These last weeks have flown by, particularly this last week because we are all getting ready to take off the training wheels and finally become real, live, bonified Peace Corps volunteers! I can’t believe that only a week ago, my stage was headed to Popenguine to spend a beautiful beach weekend at a house Peace Corps often rents for their varying holiday needs. I call it the Peace Corps Real World house because that is truly what it felt like. The house is huge and no more than 50 ft from the ocean. The huge front porch, complete with tiki chairs and a picnic table, proved to be the perfect place to hang out, talk, and presented an unobstructed view of the Atlantic Ocean. Literally uninhabited white sand beaches stretch out in either direction from the house. If I looked to the left, sandstone bluffs towered up and met the ocean and I could watch the waves crash up and break with white foam and a loud crack before receding back into the ocean. A few motivated souls climbed to the top, but I was content to just look and hang out in the ocean. To the right of the house was an island where I did venture. There were two ways to get onto the island, both of which I tried. The first day I made my way from the beach and tried not to slash my feet open on hidden rocks leading up to the island. After climbing on a few boulder I was able to reach a rock cliff weathered away by wind and realized that I could free climb up the side if I was extremely careful. It was awesome when I reached the top and pulled myself up onto the island. It was not large probably 20 meters in diameter and I perched myself on a rock outcropping that hung over the ocean. I felt like I was as near to the United States as I had been in a long time, but more than anything I felt absolutely free. If you have never sat out by yourself with only the ocean and horizon in front of you, it is something you must do because I have never felt anything like it in the world. The second day, one of the boys knew how to swim out to the island at low tide and climb through rock caverns in order to climb up through the underbelly of the cave. This was an awesome experience even though when a particularly strong wave came up I got smashed into one of the cave walls and dunked under water. The best way to explain this feeling was like being in a Pirates of a Carribean movie, which anyone who knows me knows is really my one true dream.
The rest of the house is roomy with a couple of balconies in the kingsized bedrooms and then other bedrooms that were full of bunkbeds. I personally slept half the night on the beach and the other half on a mat on the porch. Yes, as you might have suspected I didn’t get much sleep. But what could have been better than a giant slumber party with 54 of my newest friends? The craziest thing about this whole weekend was that to rent this beautiful beach house, it only costs 5 mil (the equivalent of $10) a person to rent this house and renting it is not exclusive to Peace Corps. Anyone coming to Senegal for Christmas??
After our relaxation at Popenguine we were back to homestay for the last week. Its weird to think that I will only be seeing my family for only one more weekend when I go back for Tobaski (which I will explain later in this blog). I feel so comfortable with them and can never repay them for their kindness in taking me in and treating me like a daughter even with my limited knowledge of their language and culture. I am also proud that I am able to converse somewhat with my family on a more than elementary level and say things like, “Actually, No, people in America are not all rich. We have people who live on the streets without food or homes and not everyone lives like Beyonce” instead of “I hungry” and “I sleep now.” Much less the cavewoman you understand…
I am not only going to miss my family, but also Mbour. You know that feeling of finally getting to know a place and being like, “Yeah, if you go down that road you can find the best burger place in town, but don’t let the homeless guy on the street scare you because he doesn’t mean it and by the way his name is Bob…” Well that’s kind of how I feel but it sounds like this for me in Mbour: “Yeah, if you want to go to the beach pass the first hotel because those guys will rip you off, but there is this really cool beesap juice hut about 100 yards from there. Ask for Ablie. He’ll take care of you. But don’t let those damn taxi drivers charge you more than 700 cfa from Liberte to the beach, they’ll ask for a mil 5. And if you want some lamb dbitte we can go to a place that makes it fast and cheap and plus last week they threw in a free fataya…” Are you getting the picture? Mbour feels kind of like my town and now I have to leave. 😦 I know I will just do this all again in my village in that is the great thing. Probably best of all, is I can always come back to visit my family and Mbour when I feel like a little beach break and a cheap vacation!
This past week was amazing hanging out with my family and preparing for the end of training, but a little gliche in the week was an issue I feel like could become something fairly common when dealing with misunderstanding between Peace Corps and the recipients of Peace Corps services. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but it opened my eyes to some of the problems with operations between areas where previous NGO’s have been and peoples’ expectations after the fact.
As I have written to you, we have been keeping up a school garden in the school across the road from my house. In an effort to encourage maintenance of the garden after our departure, we set up a demo session with some of our family members and a willing teacher and classroom at the school. They were all excited and promised to keep up the garden. We left some of the necessary tools with the school, but because of limited funding we had been directed by Peace Corps to take the bucket and pulley we had been using at the school and a wheelbarrow and some tools. When we finished the demo and tried to roll out with said items we saw the school master come hurtling out of his office and run screaming after us. Let me preface this story by saying we had already had a confrontation with this less than pleasant fellow when we went to introduce ourselves to him. At this meeting, he barely looked up from his papers and told us that he wasn’t pleased with Peace Corps because we had promised him new fencing and some sort of piping that would lead into the garden (all very expensive procedures) and that we hadn’t followed through on the promises. He said he didn’t really care what we were doing in the garden. As you might imagine, my groupmates and I were not the happiest after we had put hours of work into double digging, composting, planting, transplanting, and watering a garden that was completely for this guys’ school children and their families. Anyway, flash forward to screaming and chasing us across school yard. We couldn’t understand what he was saying but none of us could speak Wolof, but our teacher was with us and translated. Turns out he said Peace Corps had given all of these things to him and the school and that they were now his. We were not to take them and if we did he would destroy the entire garden. The man was just such a bully and so aggressive right off the bat that we were completely stunned. He tried to rip the bucket away from Andy (a fairly large and burly Peace Corps volunteer). Bad idea. Andy ripped it back and then a fiery 5 ft 2 in Jaynelle flew in grabbed the bucket, placed it firmly between her feet and crossed her arms. I hope you are getting the tension this situation caused. The more our teacher translated, the angrier we got. Apparently other NGO’s had come in and just given them tools and because this had happened we were somehow obliged to do the same, even though in Peace Corps experience tools that had been left at the school had been consistently broken or damaged. When we tried to ignore him and leave, the head master physically blocked our way out of school yard. My teacher told us to just give him the bucket, but now I was also up in arms and refused to be bullied into giving this jerk the bucket. I knew that my house was only a little ways away and if we could walk quickly out of the school I could lock the bucket in my room until Peace Corps was able to deal with things further. Finally as the head master was screaming, I told Andy to grab the bucket and we would walk to my house. With the head master screaming behind us we managed to escape the school and get to my house fast enough to lock the bucket in my room. My family was really supportive and told me that the school master had always been a huge calabante anyway. I realize by this point in the story you might be saying, “What’s the big deal it was only a bucket.” My only reply to this would be that it was not just a bucket, but a bucket full of pride. And after being ripped off my taxi drivers, children in the streets, and anyone else thinking that Americans have all the money and supplies in the world, I was not about to have the bucket taken by a mean overagressive bully of a schoolmaster.
On a lighter note, I am very happy because the decision has been made that we will all go back to our homestays for Tobaski which is Islam’s biggest celebration. Much in the way we celebrate Christmas, Tobaski is a time to celebrate a very momentous event in Islam’s religion (and Christianity’s as well actually). It is the time they remember the sacrifice of the sheep in the replacement of the son in Abraham and Isaac. Families come and the children get new clothes. Every family slaughters a sheep and families who don’t have the money to buy a ram (and many don’t) take out a loan to do so. There is a huge feast and people go from home to home, family to family to celebrate with each other. I am very excited and will be honored to spend this much beloved time with my family.
This is a very busy week for me. Yesterday I took my last language exam. I don’t know the results yet, but as I stated in a previous blog, I have already achieved intermediate mid level and am good to go for language and not in danger of being held back from installation. We are having a few cram tech sessions and tomorrow our families come to celebrate the end of training here in Thies. I believe my Neyney is coming and I can’t wait to see her tomorrow. On Friday we go to the embassy in Dakar to swear in and become Peace Corps volunteers! I believe this ceremony will be on televised and you will be able to see us all dressed in our traditional Senegalese finery. Speaking of this finery, Tucker, Adrian, and I will be wearing matching outfits which is a source of great entertainment for me. Our teacher, Falaye got us true Puulaar fabric from Guinea Bisseau, which was such a nice gesture of him even though we will be triplets now. I told Adrian and Tucker not to worry, we don’t look a thing like each other and besides, I am a girl so my dress is quite different from their boubou’s. 🙂
After swear-in, we are back for Tobaski and from there I will head down to Veligara subregion of Kolda and begin buying furniture for my hut. I move to Sinchan Samba Fula on the 11th. Thanks as always everyone for following and believe me I am thinking of you all at home drinking apple cider and watching the leaves change color.